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Bexar County sheriff files criminal charges over DeSantis' migrant flight

Venezuelan migrants stand outside St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S. September 14, 2022. Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout via REUTERS
Handout ./via REUTERS
Venezuelan migrants stand outside St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S. September 14, 2022. Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout via REUTERS

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Monday filed criminal charges over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ operation to fly dozens of migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts under false pretenses.

Joe Gonzales, the county's district attorney, confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that his office was reviewing the charges.

The flight was part of a Florida initiative to transport migrants out of Texas and into Democrat-led communities — a project DeSantis has championed and celebrated.

Salazar has said that DeSantis' operation lured the 49 migrants from San Antonio's Migrant Resource Center under false pretenses, promising them jobs in another city.

"The charge filed is Unlawful Restraint and several accounts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony," Salazar's office said in a statement to TPR. The unlawful restraint charge would be a felony for five of the migrants who were under the age of 17.

Salazar's office did not name suspects involved in the case. The relocations were overseen by his chief of staff and head of public safety. DeSantis’ office did not respond to TPR's requests for comment.

Gonzales' statement explained that the "complaint will undergo our normal and meticulous intake review. The process of determining whether enough evidence exists to charge anyone with a crime and convince a jury of Bexar County citizens 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that a crime has been committed may be lengthy and labor-intensive under the best of circumstances."

It added: "If a review of the facts reveal that a felony offense has been committed, we will present that case to a grand jury for their deliberation."

Meanwhile, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued an alert to all Latino refugee communities to prevent further exploitation of vulnerable communities.

“We strongly advise individuals not to accept transportation offers from unknown individuals promising jobs, housing, and assistance without verifying the legitimacy of such proposals with local government authorities,” said LULAC’s President Domingo Garcia. “It is essential to safeguard against the trafficking of individuals for profit or political purposes.”

LULAC also urged the U.S. Justice Department to determine if federal laws were violated while migrants were transported across state lines.

The controversy was not limited to Massachusetts and the Lone Star State. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that California Attorney General Rob Bonta planned to investigate any links between DeSantis and a flight from New Mexico that carried about 20 asylum seekers — first collected in El Paso — to the state capital of Sacramento on Monday.

Officials believed the migrants were unaware the private flight was taking them to California. A similar flight took place on Friday.

The AP also reported that the Sacramento mayor said religious groups were assisting the migrants. California's governor said the state may consider kidnapping charges. DeSantis did not provide any comment on the California case either.

Marian Navarro contributed to this report.

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